By R.C.J. Sawyer
First Published in The Avicultural Magazine Vol. 103 No. 2
Copyright © 1997 Avicultural Society, Published with Permission

Last year (1996) marked a quarter of a century during which Ruth Ezra, President of the Avicultural Society, and I have enjoyed keeping our joint collection here at Chestnut Lodge, Cobham, Surrey. Numerous breedings have taken place, including 14 which are believed to be UK first breedings, along with several UK second breedings and numerous others. Of the many families, it is the waders with which we have been the most successful. Several have been sustained breedings over many years. Possibly our best year so far was 1992.

These notes aim to provide as much information as possible, although unfortunately in the case of several of the smaller birds it is difficult to write a great deal about the breedings as the nests were sometimes too small to observe or we thought it best to leave the birds alone and not disturb them. I have separated the feeding and describe it before the breeding as generally in the large flights the birds have a variety of foods available and will take a selection of those offered.

With regard to the aviaries, these notes are best read in conjunction with those that appeared in the Avicultural Magazine, 101, 4: 187-191, covering my talk at the Centenary Celebrations, which was illustrated with a selection of slides. The aviaries here at Cobham are of many shapes and sizes, and of various heights. They are generally landscaped and planted to blend in with various trees and plants etc. One problem has been that the growth is at times very vigorous and nowadays the vegetation has to be pruned back otherwise it would be difficult to see the birds. Subtle alterations have been made to some of the flights but basically they have remained unaltered since they were constructed. The present lay-out took about 20 years to complete. At all times the birds come first and all are encouraged to breed.

Correct feeding is a vital part of breeding. Being in mixed aviaries with a large variety of foods available means that many of the birds have the chance to sample a wider variety of foods than otherwise might be available to them. Most aviaries have a supply of nectar and in some aviaries there is more than one type. Hanging parrots and lories have a Lory nectar. There are now many nectar preparations available, all claiming to be the best and containing their own particular combination of ingredients. We mix our own and provide it in open dishes, except in the case of the more delicate nectar-feeders such as the hummingbirds, sunbirds and sugarbirds, for which we use hanging bottles. Over the years nectars have changed as research has improved, though even now too rich a nectar can be had for some birds and may cause liver problems. How appropriate it is that Ruth's father, Alfred Ezra, was the first to develop a nectar mixture on which birds thrived - it included Nestles condensed milk, Mellin's Food and sugar - and some of the hummingbirds fed on it lived for up to eight years in his collection.

I am often asked about my softbill/insectivorous food. I use a mixture of Haith's Prosecto Insectivorous Food and Bogena, and sometimes others which vary from time to time. At present I am also using Witte Molen and high protein chick starter crumbs. Once again the varieties available are increasing all the time and there are now even specially formulated diets for touracos and hornbills. What I have done for years is also use hardboiled eggs with them. I am a great believer in that it puts body into birds. We use the entire egg including the shell, which we mix together in our machine. There are few birds which do not take some of this. It is mixed with the softbill mixture, sprinkled with Vionate (one of the vitamin supplements we use), and fed to the birds daily. Anything left over the next day is taken away just in case it may start to go off and is given to the cranes. I also use ox heart which is mixed in with the insectivorous food. Again I am a great believer in this. The art is to provide just enough food, so that there is a little left the next morning. All too often you see dishes full up and know that the birds have been given enough food to last all week. When we have a new keeper, one of our first tasks is to teach him or her how to judge the correct amount of food to give to the birds.

I use a wide variety of fruits most of which are cut-up but some are chopped in our machine. Certain fruits such as grapes, apples and pears are used all year round but others are used only seasonally. I do not use oranges and never have. Also, whereas a lot of people put fruit on spikes, I do not. Any uneaten fruit is removed the next day. Here again the art is to have just a little left over the next morning.

Once livefood consisted of only maggots and mealworms, but maggots are no longer used since the problems with botulism in the l970s. Nowadays, I use as great a variety of livefood as I can obtain. What a difference mini mealworms have made to successful rearing, especially during those first few days. At one time we could buy ants' eggs commercially, but this was a long time ago.

Most of my seed comes from Haith's. With large parrots such as macaws and Keas Nestor notabilis I use small quantities of sunflower seed and give them plenty of fresh fruit and nuts. The Scarlet Ibis Eudocimus ruber have carophyll added to their food during the moult so as to maintain their colour. I use a proprietary diet for the flamingos. The waterfowl have their own food, consisting of wheat pellets, bread and sea duck food, and seem to thrive on it, as do all the wild ducks, which all seem to know when it is feeding time.

It is wonderful to see the iridescent plumage of the Emerald Starling Lamprotornis iris when the sun catches it. It is a quite spectacular and breathtaking bird. I first saw this starling in 1954, when David Attenborough returned from the Zoo Quest Expedition to Sierra Leone, West Africa, with 26. There is a colour plate by David Reid Henry in the Avicultural Magazine, 61. 6:261, and notes by my good friend the late John Yealland, Those brought back were mostly in immature plumage but those depicted in the colour plate are in adult plumage. One pair went to M. Delacour and another pair to Mr. Ezra. The rest were retained by London Zoo. I was not fortunate enough to obtain any at the time, but eventually one came into my collection and lived for many years. It was brought back with other birds from Sierra Leone by Ray Shingler, who had been a keeper at London Zoo.

Many years later, in 1979, a dealer rang mc to say that he had some interesting starlings including the Emerald. I almost had a fit, for these were the first that had ever been offered for sale. I went at once and bought four or six, which was all I could get. They were placed in a large aviary and the next year (1980), I was extremely excited when two young were reared. It was the first time that this species had been bred in the UK. Emerald Starlings are a flock or colony bird and it is possible to keep several together in a large aviary. A breeding pair will become dominant but given plenty of space in a planted aviary the others will be safe. Emerald Starlings often carry green leaves in their bills, but I remain uncertain whether this is for display purposes or nesting. They have bred for us here at Cobham several times since though not on a regular basis. The nest-box is generally one of the sloping-type, but with a flat bottom and with wire- mesh on the inside to assist the birds to get in and out. The eggs are typical starling eggs, that is mainly light blue with brown/red blotching.

Emerald Starlings appear to withstand our climate pretty well. They are highly nervous when first received. They do not make good show birds as they spend their time on the floor of the cage and their plumage gets soiled. The same thing happens in quarantine and at dealers' premises and this can result in them picking up infections. When I obtained my first ones they were, not perfect, but nothing was seriously wrong with them. They bathed extensively at first which as you know happens with a lot of birds when you first get them. During this period the water should he changed each time after they have bathed, as dirty water can lead to the spread of infection. I find bathing to be a sign of a good healthy bird and mine continue to bath regularly in almost all the different types of weather that we experience here in England.

The breeding of the Splendid Starling Lamprotornis splendidusL. splendidus has already been the subject of an article in the Avicultural Magazine, 88, 4: 1 89-190, illustrated with a colour plate by Richard Daniel. My original pair came from Mr. & Mrs T. J. Barnley, near Kitale, western Kenya, which is at the eastern limit of the range of this principally West African species. I must say that this species' name is most appropriate. It is one of the few starlings that is easily sexable, the male being more brightly coloured and larger than the female. They first bred here in 1976, and we were awarded the Society's medal for the first breeding in this country. However, M. Delaeour had bred them two years earlier at Clères, which was probably the first ever captive breeding. Over the first few years the Cobham pair regularly produced young, but then they were stolen and were never recovered. I was able to obtain others and have had occasional successes since including in 1992, when one was hand-reared. Patrick Taplin, a keeper at the time, put a great deal of time and effort into raising it. Whereas the Superb Starling SuperbStarlingSuperb SpreoSuperbStarlingSuperb StarlingSpreo superbus readily goes to nest, albeit not always rearing the young, the Splendid Starling will carry green leaves around the aviary perhaps even building an incomplete nest, but nowadays seldom seems to lay fertile eggs. This is in marked contrast to my original pair which hatched every egg they laid and reared all the young. There are still six here at Cobham and I know of a few others in bird gardens and private collections and, hopefully, these will form the nucleus of a breeding programme.

Superb Starlings bred at Cobham in 1996. The RoyalStarlingRoyal StarlingRoyal or RoyalStarlingRoyal StarlingGolden-breasted Starlings Cosmopsarus regius though have yet to be completely successful. This beautiful starling has had young about to leave the nest only to let them die. Royal Starlings are very prone to gape worm infections and precautions need to be taken when they are newly imported. However, once they are established they do well even in our damp autumns. AmethystStarlingAmethyst StarlingAmethyst or AmethystStarlingAmethyst StarlingViolet-backed Starlings Cinnyricinclus leucogaster have also had young about to fledge. Here again this starling is sexable, although mistakes occur sometimes because young males can take up to three years to loose their female-like immature plumage.

American Black-necked Stilts Himantopus mexicanus bred here first in 1992, which was another UK first breeding. At present they breed in our two large aviaries. They feed on mixed insectivorous food, minced ox heart and, when we could obtain them, sand eels, which are no longer available. During the breeding season the male gets a pink flush on his breast (which may not be noticeable in the wild) and this is a sign that he is coming into breeding condition. The display before they mate is wonderful - they looked like ballet dancers - it is really quite spectacular. The male dances around the female and then suddenly they mate. When they bred here in 1992, it was only their second year here. The original pair have yet to lay an infertile egg. Each nest has four eggs which all hatch and all the chicks are reared. There are drawbacks though when they are breeding, as they are not easy birds to keep in a mixed aviary. Once they have young all the other waders have to be removed and they will even fly up and attack birds sitting on the perches. They are wonderful parents which dote on their chicks and have become one of my favourite waders, but it is necessary to keep a careful watch on them. Their eggs have a speckled, dull green background colour, with mottled brown markings. They have a single clutch and have nested in the same place each year for the past five years. The aviary which was known as the Cock-of-the-Rock aviary, has a stream running through it. It is the same aviary in which the Black-winged Stilts Himantopus himatopusH. himatopus nested so successfully. They first bred in 1979, which was another UK first breeding. I believe that the Black-necked species is the prettier and more attractive of the two. The Black-winged Stilts received the same diet, but some of them got a gout-like condition in their toes which could cause lameness. Both species are very hardy and will stand in running water when roosting during the winter. As it is always running, the water does not freeze and its temperature is above that of the cold night air. If the water froze then there would almost certainly be problems. In the summer they roost on the ground.

To my surprise and great pleasure, a pair hatched the previous season, successfully reared chicks in their first year. I was surprised that they matured so quickly. I have disposed of the Black-winged species and for a few years now have kept only Black-necked Stilts. These can be disposed of without permission and no paperwork is needed, whereas this is not the case with the Black-winged species. Most people who know me know how I dislike paperwork, and this is why I no longer keep Black-winged Stilts.

I would say that stilts need an aviary not less than 6m x 3m (approx, 20ft x 10ft), with a constant trickle of running water. They carry their food into the water to wash it and if the water is still, an oily film quickly develops on the surface and this causes feather problems. Some of my birds which have gone to other aviculturists have had this problem, but as soon as running water was introduced it disappeared. Sexing is not difficult as the male has a more intense black on the back, with a shine to the feathers, whereas the female's back has a brownish tinge. The young that bred in 1996 could be sexed fairly early on, but generally it takes a year before you can be certain. This young pair went together very quickly and became aggressive to their nest mates and these had to be removed.

Avocets Recurvirostra avocetta breed regularly here at Cohham. It is most gratifying for first time visitors to admire these birds that are once again breeding in considerable numbers in this country. Avocets must be surgically sexed to ensure that you have a true pair. Even this method is not one hundred percent accurate, as I once had 'a pair' resexed, only to find that both were the same sex. Once again, when they have young, Avocets will dominate their flight, so the entire family is put into a side aviary. It is easy to hand net them, even with other birds nesting. Many members who have visited us will have noticed that the grass is always cut around where the waders nest. Once they get used to the mower, they appear to have no fear of it. The same thing happens in the grounds with our cranes, which we are able to go right up to with the mower.

The Wattled Jaçana Jacana jacana was bred here in 1994, which was possibly a first ever breeding. This is the South American species which has a yellow bill, a red frontal shield and wattles; the outer primaries are yellow and the legs and feet are dusky green. Jaçanas or Lilytrotters need the right conditions and if provided with them they will thrive, but if they arc kept in poor conditions foot problems are inevitable. My pair bred in the waterfall aviary which housed birds up to the size of the Purple-throated Fruitcrow Querula purpurata . This jaçana is much tougher than the African Jaçana Actophilornis africanus, although in a bad winter it ought to be put inside at night. We were usually able to walk them in and sometimes they were intelligent enough to walk in on their own. The most fascinating thing about the breeding was that the male did all the work, which as you know is most unusual with birds. He built the nest with only partial assistance from the female and sat all the time. I never saw the female on the nest. When the chicks hatched he carried them in his breast feathers and at first glance they looked like bumble bees with matchstick-like legs. The female stayed in the background, but if a Sparrow Hawk Accipiter nisus appeared on or above the aviary, she would come forward and attempt to defend them. Apart from this she did nothing and the male almost appeared to resent her coming too close to defend the chicks or interfere with them. In the centre of the pond there are rocks and also lilies and blanket weed, and it was here that the nest was built. The eggs were a beautiful shining bronze colour. Sexing was very easy as the female is larger than the male. The young could be sexed by their size and this was confirmed about 18 months later when they attained full colour. Although they are not aggressive like stilts and avocets, they did drive off the old jaçanas that I had in the aviary, and they had to be removed. Four young were reared in 1994 and three in 1995. 1 tried the tiny chicks with a dish of mini mealwornis, but am uncertain what they ate at first, however, within a few days the mini mealwornis were being taken. At present there is a single African Jaçana here, which is an aggressive bird. As I implied before, I believe that the Wattled Jaçana is much superior and hardier. Getting the young meated-off was not too difficult. We had to mix livefood with the softbill food and then be patient. The main problem is that it is expensive to supply unlimited livefood in a large mixed aviary.

The WhitebreastedRailWhite-breasted Rail Laterallus leucopyrrhus, also known as the WhitebreastedRailWhite-breasted RailRed and White Crake, is a bird that needs some notes written about it, some of them for the wrong reasons. They can be very aggressive, and at times, can be difficult to keep together. I imported a few to go in with our group, but all the new ones were killed by the next morning, which shows how aggressive they can be. In a large planted aviary with plenty of cover in which to hide they will be happy, as every so often one or more will get picked on and will need somewhere to hide. This problem of introducing new birds or a new bird into an established group applies to various species. Surgical sexing is not easy with such small birds - just 18cm (7in) long - and I have had examples that have needed the 'kiss of life' when they stopped breathing and had to be pumped to get them going again. They nest in quite extraordinary places such as quite high up in bushes and in half-open-fronted nest-boxes. We have bred them several times and once again, the young of this South American species are enchanting. As I have already said, White-breasted Rails climb all over the place, one minute they are on the ground and the next they are at the top of a bush. They have been accused of being egg-eaters, but I have not found this to be the case. Mine were good parents, I say this in the past tense, as I now have only two left. They are not breeding and as there are no more available, it may be the last time we see them in our aviaries. They eat fruit and softbill food etc., and also seeds, including various millets.

Roulroul Partridges Rollulus roulroul appear to breed well for only a short time, say up to about three years, and then seem to do nothing. In 1956, when I lived in London, I recorded the second UK breeding. The chicks were parent-reared and the following year a Silky brooded and reared the young. At that year's National Exhibition of Cage Birds, held at the Olympia, London, I won the award for the Best Foreign Exhibit with the male and one of his daughters. It was the first time that a pair of English- bred foreign birds had been awarded 'Best Foreign' at what was then our premier exhibition of foreign birds. To the best of my knowledge this also includes the Crystal Palace shows going all the way back into the last century. Here at Cobham I have had several pairs that have bred. My latest pair will not sit on their eggs. I believe there is a strong possibility that they are not parent-reared and in my opinion this causes problems with both infertility and rearing. Several aviculturists have had fleeting success with a pair or two after which nothing further happened. Most successes appear to be as a result of taking the eggs away to be hatched and artificially rearing the chicks. You seem to end up with an egg layer which does not know how to sit and incubate her own eggs. My original pair were wild caught and they were serious nesters. This latest pair which are captive bred play with nesting material but never make a proper dome-shaped nest. In 1996 the eggs were taken away and placed in an incubator, and live hatched and the chicks were hand-reared. They were raised under a lamp along with a domestic hen's chick to keep them company. I have found that the Roulroul Partridge does not like cold weather and gets frost bitten toes if subjected to low temperatures. In our climate it definitely needs some form of a shelter. This is another bird that does better kept in a glass-covered, as opposed to an open aviary, in which I have experienced problems with them. They are usually okay outside from April to October.

Rothschild's Mynahs Leucopsar rothschildi have bred here in the past (using a slanting nest-box), but nowadays it is becoming increasingly difficult to get the parents to rear their young. This is similar to what has happened with the Roulroul Partridge. The mynahs are very striking birds but for some reason have developed the habit of plucking their throat feathers.

In 1984 we achieved the UK first breeding of the West African Violaceous TuracoWest African Violaceous Touraco Musophaga violacea . They went on to breed for several years, with their nesting receptacle being a wire-basket, against a wall, in a bush. There they made a dove-like nest from a few twigs. Their diet consisted of diced fruit with added vitamins. Touracos can get liver problems and recently a low iron fruit softbill food has been marketed by Witte Molen, which my touracos now accept. The young seem to leave the nest awfully early and will climb about on the branches of hushes. They remind me of the South American Hoatzin Opisthocomus hoazin when they do this, but not at other times. I did not find them aggressive until recently when breeding. I now have a female that absolutely hates women and will attack our female keeper. This bird is not frightened by anyone and remains right up close to the wire of her flight as you walk past. Ross's TuracoRoss's Touraco Musophaga rossaeM. rossae has also bred here. Slightly larger than the Violaceous, it is not imported so often nowadays. My friend Newton-Steele described the first breeding in 1972 (Avicultural Magazine, 79, 1: 30-34). for which he was awarded the Society's medal. His pair were extremely aggressive and the male took out one of the female's eyes. Touracoscan be very aggressive towards each other, especially when they are kept in a small flight. They do need to be watched when they are breeding, as the males will sometimes persecute the females. We breed the Pink-crested TuracoPink-crested species Tauraco erythrolophus most years. We have also bred Livingstone's Turaco Tauraco corythaix livingstoniiLivingstone's T. corythaix livingstonii which nests in a box, and have bred Schalow's TuracoTauraco corythaix schalowiSchalow's T c. schalowi and achieved the second breeding of Fischer's TuracoTauraco corythaix fischeriFischer's Touraco T c. fischeri, one of the young of which is now living in the collection at Leeds Castle. With touracos surgical sexing is the best way of establishing pairs, or you can let them pick their own partners.

The Blue Whistling Thrush Myiophoneus caeruleus is a very attractive bird which in a good light appears spotted all over with glistening blue, and has the habit of flicking and fanning its tail. However, they can at times be killers and are not to be trusted with birds smaller than themselves, or even birds of their own size, which is about 33cm (13in) long. They were even aggressive towards the Scarlet Ibis. They bred here successfully in 1992 (which was another UK first breeding), when they built a typical thrush nest but larger than usual, due to their larger size. They bred several more times, with the young leaving the nest looking like paler versions of their parents. When nesting the female would attack the keepers and eventually killed the male whistling thrush. It is definitely a species to keep a close eye on, even if there are just a pair on their own in a spacious flight. I have noticed that yellow-billed birds are no longer imported, whereas those with black bills continue to be imported occasionally.

The Island Thrush Turdus poliocephalus inhabits numerous south-east Asian islands. The male has a white head, otherwise it is basically a brown bird with a black back, and is similar in shape and size to the European Blackbird Turdus merula T. merula. I had a pair of Island Thrushes and then obtained some more and eventually had a male and two females in the same aviary. First one female nested and successfully reared young and then to my utter amazement the second female did the same - the male had mated with both females. They nested in half-open-fronted nest-boxes, which is not normal for thrushes. It is believed to he the UK first breeding of this species.

Kookaburras Dacelo novaeguineae have over the years often bred here. Members who have visited us will remember that they bred first in a small enclosure by the garages. Mice and day-old chicks formed the bulk of their diet. You can sex them by sight, but this is not always easy. My present pair are still young.

Azure-winged Magpies Cyanopica cyana have bred here on several occasions in recent years. I have in the past kept them in a flock and this seemed to galvanise them into breeding. After cutting back in 1996, I now have only two pairs, one of which reared five young in the lakeside aviary. They are not too aggressive, but it is best to keep them with species of a similar size to themselves. Actually, when they moult their tail feathers, they are quite small birds.

The Red-tailed Siva Minla ignotincta bred in 1989 in one of the range of six smaller aviaries. This Asiatic species has a black head with a white eye-stripe, a brown back, a yellow belly and a red tail. If it was not for its red tail it would be a difficult bird to spot in a planted flight. I cannot report much about the breeding of this species. They were thought to be sitting, then livefood was taken to the nest and eventually two young were seen in the flight. Of the other two sivas, the Blue-winged Siva Blue-winged Minla cyanouroptera M. cyanouroptera is a rather highly strung bird, whereas the Chestnut-tailed Siva Chestnut-tailed Minla strigulaM. strigula is very confiding. Of the three, only the Red-tailed is sexable. Several others have been successful with it in recent years. This species had not been seen in England for many years. In the March 1915 issue of Bird Notes, the magazine of the Foreign Bird Club, there is a coloured plate of it painted by Goodchild. It was painted from life from a male owned by Ruth's father, Alfred Ezra. He described the bird as the most fascinating of the softbilled birds that he had kept. It was full of curiosity and not at all frightened. This I can confirm.

A similar story has to be told of the Southern Tit Warblers Parisoma subcaeruleum, which were sold as Tit-Babblers, which is their South African name. These small African warblers are mainly grey, with the chin and throat white streaked with black, and have chestnut undertail-coverts. To start with I kept them in one of the six small flights, where in 1989 they built a small compact nest and reared two young. The sexes look alike and the young when they left the nest were merely duller versions of their parents.

Plumbeous Redstarts Phoenicurus fuliginosus were successful twice in 1988, rearing three young each time. Once again they bred in one of the six small flights where they nested in a thick currant bush. I did not know that they were nesting until the male went for Alan Lewis their keeper. Others have since been successful with this species. It is a well known bird found from the Himalayas to northern Thailand and western China. The male is basically a dark bluish-slate, with a brightly coloured chestnut tail. The female is greyish-brown, with a white and brown tail. Often pictured in or near water, this species enjoys access to a stream or pond, if possible.

The Black-masked Crimson Tanagers Ramphocelus nigrogularis from the Andes were successful in 1992, once again in the range of six flights. Although the aviaries have heated shelters this species will withstand cold weather. What it does not like is damp autumn weather. This can be said of a great many birds. The pair nested in an open-fronted finch-type box and were tolerant of the other aviary inmates. They took a lot of livefood while nesting. Basically black and red birds, they are very striking when viewed for the first time. The female is a duller version of the male and the young are duller versions of their parents. The Black-checked Woodpeckers Melanerpes pucherani from central and northern South America have, since the first UK breeding in 1992, been successful on numerous occasions including in 1996. Again the breeding has taken place in one of the six small flights. Not many woodpeckers are imported and few have been bred in captivity. Over the years I have found that woodpeckers enjoy nectar and I ensure it is available to them. In 1954 I wrote a letter about a Cuban Black-browed Woodpecker Cuban Black-browed Woodpecker Centurus superciliaris, noting the fact that it was fond of the sunbird's nectar. The sexes of the Black-cheeked Woodpecker are similar with the male having a stronger red cap. The nest site was a Silver Birch tree trunk cut into three sections for ease of handling and moveability. Once they have excavated their nest hole, we just have to wait and hope. I believe that the young are in the nest for about three weeks, which seems a long time. When we see lots of food being taken into the log, we know they have young. It is, of course, impossible to see inside. The log had a small hole and this was where the woodpeckers started to drill. I made the point earlier, that the young seemed to be in the log for a long time, and I wondered if it was the parents that were eating all the livefood. We could not hear any noises coming from inside, but eventually four young emerged. The male continues to drill even when the female is sitting. These woodpeckers are now in one of the three covered flights by the Koi Carp pool. They like fruit, softbill food, livefood and nectar. They have a Scarlet-chested Sunbird Nectarinia senegalensis sharing their flight, and it is a pleasure to see the sunbird and a woodpecker drinking from the same dish of nectar. They are not particularly aggressive and, when they first bred, had a pair of Black-naped Fruit Doves Ptilinopus melanospila in the flight with them.

Blue-faced Honeyeaters Entomyzon cyanotis harteri, from southern New Guinea and northern Queensland, bred here first in 1992. It is a species which I never expected to see again. In 1960, Chat and Lindsay exhibited a pair at the National Exhibition of Cage and Aviary Birds at Olympia, London, where they won their class and eventually won the award for the Best Large Foreign Softbill. I obtained six in 1991. They are kept in an aviary with a shelter that is heated during the winter. Two pairs nested though only one pair did so successfully. They nested in a wire basket and it was not difficult to rear the young which were left with their parents. The colony was progressing well but when I attempted to introduce more of them this caused problems. The new birds were resented and were attacked and had to be removed. This is a common problem with many birds. Whenever possible I try to obtain four to six birds, especially as most are not sexable. You breed them and the birds thrive, but eventually one or more may die. You obtain a replacement or replacements but introducing them is I find a strain both on me and the birds. If you keep birds in a birdroom you can put the new bird or birds in a cage and allow them to get to know each other through the wire. In aviaries, when I do this, I introduce them into the aviary and watch and pray that the new birds and the old birds will get on well together. It is usually the first 24 hours that cause most concern. After this it is when nesting takes place that problems are most likely to occur. The aggression which starts with lots of calling and may end with fighting invariably starts when you are not there.

I had problems with egg eating in 1994 and 1995, so in 1996 when a single honeyeater egg was seen, it was taken away to be hatched in an incubator and the chick hand-reared by Sheila Becker. When it was newly hatched, you could not tell what it was, but when the blue started to break through on its face, you knew at once it was a Blue-faced Honeyeater. The chick was fed on the touraco diet, with pawpaw and added vitamins, together with the squeezed out contents of mealworms and little grubs. The chick soon learnt to pick up food for itself and all went well. I prefer parent rearing but in this case there was no choice. With the addition of this youngster there will he five in the group, so its introduction will not be easy.

Green Wood Hoopoes Green Wood Hoopoes Phoeniculus purpureus have been bred before, the first time in UK being at Winged World at Heysham, Lancashire They are very interesting birds and kept in a large mixed aviary next to the waterfowl aviary. Four were obtained and very quickly it was obvious that a pair were nesting. The nest-box was the usual type hung at an angle. When they were rearing their young an enormous amount of livefood was being put in to the aviary. Then I hit on an idea, I put ½in (12mm) wire netting over the top of a large hook-on feeding pot, so that the wood hoopoes with their long bills were able to take the livefood but it was out of reach of the other birds. I found them to he very good parents, which made a great fuss of their young. I also noted that the other two helped them with the feeding. However, they do not like new inmates in their aviary and can be murderous to their own kind, if you attempt to introduce newcomers into the colony. In the case of other species, it is not that they kill them, it is that they pursue then around the aviary, interfere with nest-boxes and generally make the new birds feel insecure. Wood hoopoes roost in their nest-box.

Ringed Plovers Charadrius hiaticula were successful for several years. I kept the pairs separated and my last pair were excellent parents. They nested against the wire in the main aviary where the dogs walk up and down outside during the day. When the dogs did this the plovers would fly against the wire to try to drive them away. They were great characters and gave me no problems for they were very protective of their young. Unlike the stilts, they were not aggressive towards other birds. In 1992, I had another first breeding, this time with the Masked Plover Vanellus miles which comes from the south Moluccas, Kei Island, New Guinea and northern and eastern Australia. This species has a yellow bill and large yellow wattles, a black crown and nape, and the sides of the head, the neck and underparts are white. Mine are extraordinarily prolific. There are three nests a year with 100% fertility. I have had them sitting in the snow and still be successful, although I much prefer them to nest later in the year, as the winter days are so very short which is not conducive to good reproduction. The nest is a scrape in the ground lined with a few twigs.

A great disappointment has been my failure to persuade my pygmy geese to nest. They display but do nothing else. Mine are African Pygmy GooseAfrican Pygmy Geese Nettapus auritus. They are the prettiest, but are not free breeders. Mine may well be the oldest pair in captivity, for they are over ten years old and this is now beginning to show. My stilts do not bully them even when they are nesting. They are highly nervous birds. I recently acquired two more pairs which I have in the waterfall aviary and shut into a shelter at night if it is at all cold.

Doves have been quite successful here at Cobham. The Black- naped species has bred now for some six years. The Beautiful Fruit Pigeons Ptilinopus pulchellusP. pulchellus rear a single chick but so far all have been males. The Jambu Fruit DovePtilinopus jambuJambu P. jambu and Superb Fruit DovePtilinopus superbusSuperb P. superbus have also been successful. As you may know, it is easy to get doves to nest but their nests can be quite literally next to nothing. A pair of Beautiful nested on a leaf! We stitched a small basket to the leaf but it was still not successful. It is most important that the fruit for these doves is chopped very small. It is no good giving them mushy fruit or half a pear because, if you do, it will get stuck around their beak and face. With small chopped fruit they can eat it whole and it goes straight down and they do not get sores in the sides of their mouth. They will also take livefood such as mealworms, also nectar.

Golden Heart Golden Heart DoveGolden Heart Gallicolumba rufigula and both Luzon Bleeding Heart DoveGallicolumba luzonica Luzon and Bartlett's Bleeding Heart DoveGallicolumba criniger s G. luzonica and G. criniger have bred here over the years. The Luzon lays two eggs and Bartlett's a single egg. My present pair of Bartlett's have reared six young. These doves like seed, peanuts and insectivorous food, plus livefood. Doves are not energetic birds and will sit in the same place for days. However, if they are panicked, they crash about and untold damage can be done, especially when other birds are nesting. They can get foot problems when the ground is frozen, so heated accommodation is advisable in our climate during the winter. It is also best to house only a single pair of doves in a flight, unless it is particularly spacious, as especially when they are nesting, they may attack and kill other doves.

The Black-billed Weaver Black-billed Weaver Ploceus melanogaster is found from eastern Nigeria to Uganda and western Kenya, where it lives singly or in pairs, mainly in forest undergrowth. The male's forehead, crown and the sides of the face are yellow. There is a black streak through the eyes and the rest of the plumage and the bill are also black. The female has the chin and the front of the neck yellow, uniform with the sides of the face and the forehead. It has never been easy to breed weavers and reports of breeding successes are few and far between. I imported my Black-billed Weavers direct from Kenya and achieved the UK first breeding with this species in 1976. They made a typical hanging weaver's nest. When breeding they were totally insectivorous and never appeared to take any seed: It is now many years since I kept this species and the chances of ever getting it again must be very small. The Madagascar Weaver Foudia madagascariensis which has always been one of my favourites, bred here several times in the 1980s. It is a peaceful bird that does well in a colony.

I cannot claim to be well known for breeding parrots but I have had some successes. Keas, perhaps the most interesting of all parrots, have bred here most years, always early in the year. A lot of Keas in this country can be traced back to my original pair. The female came from Jersey Zoo and the male from New Zealand. The male remains keen on mating, but they are too old to breed now, for they are probably over 30 years old. I have had up to four young in a nest, but on the last occasion there were only two. When nesting the female gives out a scream if anyone comes near, otherwise Keas really are secretive when nesting and the female is sort of guarded by the male. The nest-box is constructed from breeze blocks with a lid made of paving slabs, so that they have a nest chamber similar to that which they use in their native New Zealand.

Keas enjoy a very varied diet which includes various nuts, plus fruit, lettuce and mealworms. You will have heard or read the stories of how they attack sheep, but I doubt that they do this. Many parrots will eat meat and we have all heard stories of pet African Greys Psittacus erithacus tucking into the Sunday joint and two veg. My good friend the late Sydney Porter was the first to breed Kens in 1946 and for this got the Society's medal, which is now in my possession. He visited New Zealand and could in fact find no evidence that they kill sheep. Keas are very inquisitive and highly active. His birds played all the time and especially enjoyed playing with a cup. He had them in an aviary with running water which they liked to run through. I have often thought that I should put mine into one of my larger flights.

Although not colourful birds, Keas have wonderful orange feathering under their wings, which is seen only when they fly. They seem to enjoy calling at night. Sydney had this problem and got complaints from his neighbours. He always said that he would dispose of them but they were still there 20 years after the complaints started. When he died he left his Keas to me.

When I bred Stella's Lorikeet Stella's Lorikeet Charmosyna papou stellae it was for the first time since E.J. Brooks bred it before World War I. My pair used a typical upright box in a small aviary where they could sample fruit and nectar. These lorikeets love to bath and enjoy rubbing their plumage on wet leaves after it has been raining. I am not a great believer in covered aviaries. I was also successful with the Red-flanked Lorikeet Charmosyna placentisC. placentis but quickly sold the parents when I caught them attacking and eventually killing a Malayan Crested Jay Platylophus galericulatus and a Blue-breasted Kingfisher Blue-breasted Kingfisher Halcyon malimbicaMost people have had no trouble with them and others since have been okay. It shows how careful and observant you need to be. Philippine Hanging Parrots Loriculus philippensis have bred here on numerous occasions. Some 'disappeared' in 1995 when I had a small colony. I never did find out what happened to them, although I have my suspicions. Early last year (1996) the parents left a single chick on two occasions. Then just when I was considering hand-rearing the chicks, if the parents nested again, they reared three young.

I have had Salvadori's Fig ParrotSalvadori's, Salvadori's Fig ParrotEdwards' and Double-eyed Fig Parrots Psittaculirostris salvadoriiPsittaculirostris edwardsii, P. edwardsii and Opopsitta diophthalma but these were not easy to keep alive. I found that they got into beautiful breeding condition then dropped dead and post mortems failed to reveal the causes of death. More recently Vitamin K has been found to be beneficial. London Zoo had a female Double-eyed Fig Parrot in a small box cage for about 15 years. It was fed on seed (millets. canary seed, sunflower and hemp), the same nectar as that given to the hummingbirds, sunbirds and sugarbirds, fruit, insectivorous/softhill food and mealworms. At the time it was the only fig parrot most people had ever seen. It was one of two females and a Plicated Hornbill PlicatedHornbillPapuan Wreathed HornbillPlicatedHornbillPapuan Wreathed HornbillPlicated Hornbill Aceros plicatus brought over by David Attenborough, along with a consignment of birds of paradise which Sir Edward Hallstrom presented to the zoo.

Scarlet Ibis were not successful until last year (1996), when a chick was hand-reared. The flamingos have always looked lovely but only one has been bred. Vulturine Guineafowl Vulturine Guineafowl Acryllium vulturinum have been allowed to wander free and have laid eggs in the grounds and some were hatched. I can remember my good friend Donald Risdon saying: 'All you have to do is to catch up the young and their parents and put them in an aviary while the young grow.' I found that this was not as easy as it sounded and after a time gave up and left them to their own devices. Some aviculturists find these birds are susceptible to foot problems. Perhaps this is related to their diet. It is something I can remember Reg Partridge telling me about.

Cranes are certainly long lived and give immense pleasure. We have had various species here at Cobham. They always seem to be in peak condition and love to display on the lawns. As with many such park birds, surgical sexing is generally required. Probably the best way to breed cranes would be to have full-winged males were that possible. Pinioned males may find it difficult to keep their balance when mating. Stanley Cranes Anthropoides paradisea have been successful here. At present we have a pet female called 'Emma'. Demoiselle Cranes Anthropoides virgoA. virgo have bred as well, but sadly, the Crowned Cranes Balearica pavonina have not. In fact, in all the years they have been here, try as I may, I have never even seen them mate. Our cranes get corn, pellets and the left-overs from the aviaries.

Of the more unusual pheasants, I must mention the Palawan Peacock Pheasant Polyplectron emphanum and also the Congo Peafowl Afropavo congensis, both of which have been reared successfully here at Cobham, The Palawan lays just a single egg. This species is susceptible to cold and damp weather. The Congo Peafowl is similarly affected by our climate. I believe that I was the second person to breed this species in this country, and was really pleased with this breeding. They were kept in the secluded aviary where the Choughs Red-billed ChoughPyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax are at present. Heat was provided in their shelter and they could go out at any time and walk about on the grass. Mine came from Antwerp Zoo, where they were kept in a very dry environment in sandy pens in order to help prevent disease. Here they were offered a varied diet and their feather quality started to improve and a shine returned to their feathers which had started to curl up. The main problem here was that the two males both burst their main artery and died immediately. After this occurred for the second time, the female was sent to London Zoo.

To complete these notes I have to mention an unsuccessful breeding back in August/September 1980. This was when my pair of Scarlet Cock-of-the-Rocks Rupicola peruviana hatched two chicks that lived for only a few days. Perhaps the more varied livefood available these days would have assisted in a successful outcome. The male died soon after mating, while the female, which came from Len Hill at Birdland, Bourton-on-theWater, lived here for several more years. I should perhaps state here that my male cock-of-the-rock that lived here for 16 years was not the male involved in the unsuccessful breeding attempt.